The Walt Disney Company is taking Scarlett Johansson to task over her lawsuit against the Mouse House regarding the day-and-date streaming release of “Black Widow,” which she filed in July — and the studio is claiming the film made $125 million in “streaming and download retail receipts,” a rare admission of non-theatrical grosses. As reported by Deadline, a motion filed in LA Superior Court on Friday from Disney outside lawyers Daniel Petrocelli, Leah Godesky and Tim Heafner of O’Melveny & Myers LLP states, “Periwinkle agreed that all claims ‘arising out of, in connection with, or relating to’ Scarlett Johansson’s acting services for ‘Black Widow’ would be submitted to confidential, binding arbitration in New York.”
Periwinkle Entertainment is the company through which Johansson, who is suing Disney over box-office losses incurred when the film was put on Disney+ and in theaters simultaneously, offered acting services for the film.
Essentially, Disney’s lawyers are trying to keep the lawsuit behind closed doors and out of the public eye. And in a statement that followed on Saturday, Johansson’s lawyers responded with strong words about what they believe to be a “misogynistic attack” on Disney’s part.
“After initially responding to this litigation with a misogynistic attack against Scarlett Johansson, Disney is now, predictably, trying to hide its misconduct in a confidential arbitration,” Johansson’s lawyer John Berlinski said. “Why is Disney so afraid of litigating this case in public?”
While Disney has been coy about streaming figures up to this point, one revelation to spin out of the motion said, “As of August 15, 2021, the Picture has grossed more than $367 million in worldwide box-office receipts and more than $125 million in streaming and download retail receipts.”
To that end, Berlinski added, “Because it knows that Marvel’s promises to give Black Widow a typical theatrical release ‘like its other films’ had everything to do with guaranteeing that Disney wouldn’t cannibalize box office receipts in order to boost Disney+ subscriptions… Yet that is exactly what happened – and we look forward to presenting the overwhelming evidence that proves it.”
The motion adds, “Whether Periwinkle’s claims against Disney fall within the scope of that agreement is not a close call: Periwinkle’s interference and inducement claims are premised on Periwinkle’s allegation that Marvel breached the contract’s requirement that any release of ‘Black Widow’ include a ‘wide theatrical release’ on ‘no less than 1,500 screens.”
The motion continues, “In a futile effort to evade this unavoidable result (and generate publicity through a public filing), Periwinkle excluded Marvel as a party to this lawsuit — substituting instead its parent company Disney under contract-interference theories… But longstanding principles do not permit such gamesmanship.”
Deadline reports, “On the other hand, Disney did respond last night officially to Johansson and her lawyers’ interpretation of her contract with Marvel. Specifically, having seen execs Bob Iger and Bob Chapek’s payouts out in the actor’s legal action, the company and its hired muscle center on what putting the repeatedly pandemic delayed ‘Black Widow’ on streamer Disney+ as well as on the big screen when the Cate Shortland-directed film was finally released on July 9.”
Johansson was paid a salary of $20 million on the film upfront, but she alleges that was under the condition that the movie was released exclusively in theaters.
“Although Marvel and Disney share Periwinkle’s frustration with the challenges associated with releasing films during an ever-shifting public-health crisis, Periwinkle’s claims that Marvel breached the Agreement and Disney induced that breach or otherwise interfered with the Agreement have no merit,” last night’s motion stated. “There is nothing in the Agreement requiring that a ‘wide theatrical release’ also be an ‘exclusive’ theatrical release.”
The motion went on to say, “The contract does not mandate theatrical distribution –– let alone require that any such distribution be exclusive… Moreover, the contract expressly provides that any theatrical-distribution obligations are satisfied by distribution on ‘no less than 1500 screens.’ And even though ‘Black Widow’’s release coincided with a global public-health crisis, Marvel made good on its promises.'”